Blitzstein

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Blitzstein
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Regina
PERFORMER: Katherine Ciesinski, Samuel Ramey, Angelina Réaux, Sheri Greenawald; Scottish Opera Orchestra & Chorus/John Mauceri
CATALOGUE NO: 433 812-2 DDD
John Mauceri, who with his Scottish Opera forces gave us the splendid 1991 Decca recording of Weill’s Street Scene, adds another notable American opera to his discography. Just like Street Scene, Marc Blitzstein’s Regina (1949) is a ‘real’ opera that was first performed on Broadway, and which frames its thoughts and feelings in that fertile American language shaped by both opera and the popular musical-theatre inheritance. Like Weill too, Blitzstein adapted a celebrated Broadway play of social comment – in this case The Little Foxes, Lillian Hellman’s Southern tale of bourgeois greed triumphing over faded upper-class gentility.

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It’s not, I feel, an American masterpiece on the level of Street Scene; nevertheless, Regina proves peculiarly compelling. Blitzstein’s main aim was a drama of characters embodying the opera’s thematic oppositions. At times, however, the ‘well-made play’ aspects of Hellman’s dramatic machinery seem to frustrate him. In the first of his three acts, too much time is spent on atmosphere-creation for the good of narrative unfolding. (Mauceri uses his own reconstructed ‘original version’ of the opera, which considerably lengthens the act.)

But the blend of different musical idioms – jazz, blues, spirituals, ragtime, post-Puccinian vocal lyricism – is finely achieved; and as the music-drama takes hold, so does the fascinating individuality of Blitzstein’s operatic ‘voice’.

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Mauceri’s performance, led by the strikingly powerful Katherine Ciesinski and cast with some of the most distinguished American opera singers of the day, is without qualification superb: idiomatic, fluently paced, full of wit, vigour and trenchant vocal colouring. Max Loppert